How to Deal with Problem Tenants: Keeping to YOUR Agenda

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What if your tenants aren’t on your agenda?  What if your tenant(s) fight you at every turn: paying rent late, always complaining about the condition of the property, involving friends and relatives to pressure you, and so on?

What do you do in these and other situations to get them back on the wagon?

It always amazes me at the number of landlords who are constantly challenged by problem tenants.  Sometimes it’s just one tenant and other times it seems that it is all of them — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

First let me say that I know that some tenants just should not be your, or any landlord’s tenants.  They are constantly a pain and they seem to enjoy the entire process of making your life miserable.  This article is not intended to address these professional tenants, but rather those who can “trained” to become at the very least, decent tenants.

The key to keeping tenants on “your” agenda is to ensure that they know what your agenda is, and that you will enforce it at every opportunity.  That said, the first opportunity to enforce your agenda with your tenant screening and selection process.

I have discussed the screening and selection process in other articles, so I will keep this part short — Have a screening and selection process and follow it.  Period!

Once a tenant has moved in, it is essential to make sure they are trained to ensure they know what your agenda is and that you intend to enforce it.

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Tenant Trouble Areas

Late Rent: You must ensure that your tenant knows you mean business when it comes to late rent.  On the first day that the rent is late you must take all of the actions afforded to you by your lease and the municipality you live in, and make sure you tenant knows you took those actions.  In addition, now is a good time to schedule a safe and clean inspection to get into the property and to let the tenants know you aren’t going to disappear.

Maintenance Issues: Correcting maintenance issues is your responsibility even if the tenants are responsible for the damage.  Where this becomes tricky is when a tenant starts playing games regarding your access to not only inspect the property, but to perform the maintenance.  Once a tenant moves to this position you have to recognize that they are moving off of your agenda and onto theirs.  Don’t let them do it.  Your lease is your guide here.  It should clearly state how and when you can enter your property and what notifications are required. 

I have written several articles about how to proceed once in property, but here are a few tidbits:

  • Never enter when just children are present.
  • Be prepared to video tape everything.
  • Never let interactions with the tenant become heated.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the police if you feel threatened.
  • Deal only with the individuals who are on the lease; boyfriends, mothers, fathers, sisters, etc., do not get a vote, nor should you have any discussions with them. 
  • Schedule your entry date and time, show up, complete the inspection/perform the maintenance, document everything and move on.

    Government Assisted Tenants: It could actually work to your advantage when a tenant is getting rent assistance.  If a tenant is giving you a hard time, document everything, request a hearing, show up, present your case, and more than likely the tenant will get the message.

    The key to keeping tenants on your agenda is to have rules, ensure your tenant knows what they are, and then enforce them. 

    Good Luck!


  • About Author

    Peter is an active and successful real estate investor in the Baltimore Maryland region for the past 8 years and is one of the founders of The Club Mastermind a real estate investing coaching program focused on local coaches helping investors to perfect their game.


    1. Hi Peter,

      Do you feel that you have more of these tenant headaches with lower income properties versus upscale/gated communities? Is this just the cost of doing business in rougher areas?

      Thanks and great article!


      • John,

        While most of my experience and those of my clients have been with lower income and Government assisted tenants… in today’s economy it seems tenants from all walks and economic levels can become a challenge.

        Make sure they know the rules, keep training them and hopefully they will be great tenants.

    2. I am doing most of these agenda the only thing that I missed was noting everything down in the annual inspection period, since everything just looked perfect and exactly the same since I have my tenant moved in so I didn’t bother taking any video or writing anything down but I did have my video, paper and pen ready just in case I need it during the inspection. I am so fortunate that my tenant pays her monthly rent on time electronically and take good care of my property. So agreed with you on this. Thank you.

    3. thank u Peter. So far it motivates me to do more my whole experience of my first and current tenant drives in a positive direction. And Goodluck to you as well Peter.

    4. Brandon Turner

      When I look back on every “problem tenant” I have ever had, I always come to the same conclusion: I let my standards slide when moving them in. Maybe I was in a hurry, or emotionally felt compelled to rent to them, or just was ignoring my own rules. Either way, its always caused me problems. Every time. So now I print out all my requirements on a piece of paper with a check-list next to it, and I won’t deviate from that list at all. I’ve finally learned!

      Thanks Peter, great tips!

      • I’ll concur with Brandon on this one. Problem tenants almost never get better. I set a reasonable yet high standard for who can move in, and 90% of my tenants are a pleasure to work with. The most cost-effective and stress-reducing method to deal with a problem tenant is to respectfully and professionally pursue an eviction and re-rent the unit.

    5. I would also say from experience that when you buy make sure you have the reserves to WAIT for the right tenants and also make sure your rent is not top of the market so that you can screen the most apps for the best tenants.

      The problem is when an investor purchases on an analysis return for top market rents with little reserves in place.Then when the bank mortgage payments comes after they have bought it they start bending on the screening process a little just to fill the house or units up in an apartment building.That’s when the slow pay,no pay,crime,pit bulls,drugs,and damage to your units or house starts to happen.

      • Joel,

        You are obviously an experienced landlord. Accepting the first tenant or charging the highest rent and waiting for a tenant are first time landlord mistakes for sure.

        Hopefully some new(er) landlords are paying attention to these discussions.


    6. Nick Matteson on

      Great Post. I have had tenants who kept complaining about everything. They looked good on paper according to the screening process. But they just kept asking for things that were clearly not included in the property. Every week it was something new. ‘There is no Air Conditioning, its inhumane living here..’ complaining about the number of parking spots.. etc. After holding my line, and offering only to fix and maintain what is clearly written as my responsibility on the lease, they kept complaining and complaining. Drove me nuts. Finally I had a very blunt conversation with them and said, “you know its becoming clear that you really don’t like the place. I can’t change the fact that you are disappointed with it, but the property is exactly what we agreed on for the lease. What can we do now? If you hate it so much I think we will both be happier if you found somewhere else to live. Lets quit while we are ahead. You find a new place, move out, leave it in great condition, and we will call it even. No worries.” They found a new place in about a week, they moved out, and I had kick ass tenants to replace them in no time. Being direct is the best. Say what you want and don’t give in to anyone’s agenda.

    7. Those are soem great suggestions to help reduce tenant issues Peter. Another suggestion I would recommend for landlords is to make sure you go over your lease with the tenant before they sign it. I find if I go through important points like pets, smoking, and the basic rules regarding payment and NSF charges it can make a huge difference with the attitude of the tenant.
      It helps rid the excuse of the tenant being unaware of the rules and any surprises, like pets in a pet free home!


    8. My partner’s property is currently being occupied by tenants who are on housing benefit. A few months ago, they wanted to get someone to repair the taps in the bathroom and without our consent, they got someone to do the job and only informed us after it was done. They then tried to con us out of just £20 by asking the plumber to put £90 on the receipt instead of £70, which was what they paid. Now, they claimed that they had paid someone £50 to clear up the backyard but all they did was giving away some stuff to the scrapman. They also claimed to have had one of the windows fixed and wanted us to pay for the cost. However, a friend of ours inspected the window and said it had never been repaired! I can’t even remember how many heated exchange my partner has had with them over their different ‘claims’ and recently the tenants rang up the local council claiming that we don’t do any repairs for them!
      We spoke to the council about the problem tenants and they were very sympathetic but said there is nothing they or we can do to evict the tenants because of the 12 months’ agreement (big mistake on our part!). My worry is that the tenants can just do whatever damage they can to the property and we will have to pay for the repairs. They could just claim, ‘oh, I paid for this and that and you will have to reimburse us!’ or they can just withhold some rent, which is what they have done on a few occasions.
      I can’t believe some people can stoop this low and I was wondering if there is anything else we can do to resolve the situation.

    9. I have a tenant that has only been there 4 month, and it has been hell, Curse me out when no one else is around so she thinks no one is around, every month that she has been there, its been a story not to pay the rent. i remind u she only been there 4 month, when the owner is there she will not say anything to me, im the manager. but she tells me never to come to the Apartment to pick up rent or to repairs, What can i do? I need a answer.

    10. i have also problem with my current tenant, he is always late to pay the rent, and it has been 4 months he hasn’t paid the rent. two times bank charged me because he didn’t have sufficient fund in his account to cover the check that he wrote for rent. it is so annoying, and now i want them to move out. i mailed them a nicely written notice to evacuate , but he is ignoring ,doesn’t move out, he says you can’t kick me out. i don’t’ know what to do with this tenant, i have monthly mortgage , property taxes & insurance to pay every month, i can’t afford to let them live there with out paying the rent…. please advise me.


    11. I’m more concerned with problem landlords myself. I’m dealing with one right now, who refuses to deal with a horrific neighbor who makes my life hell on a daily basis. I get nothing but excuses and attitude from her. I’d like to “train” her myself. Wow, what a condescending article.
      I was looking around for advice on how to deal with deadbeat managers like this in a state subsidized complex (I’m not subsidizes, but most around me are), and stumbled into this infuriating mess. The search continues…

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